Munsell Neutral Cubes - A Tone Exercise

For some time now I've been preoccupied with tone. The more I work with it, the more I become convinced that a well observed balance of tones is the key to creating a feeling of light, and by extension form. Frank Reilly reckoned that tones (well, being from the US he called them values) are 80% of a good picture. Who am I to disagree? But I've been wrestling with a basic problem in painting for as long as I've been interested in tone: How to deal with the fact that the available value range from light to dark is much more narrow in paint than it is in nature. Today's exercises have finally convinced me that I've got the answer to that problem - or at least, one answer. This post is going to get a bit technical, and there'll be numbers involved. For that I apologise, but there's no avoiding it. Regular visitors will be used to me harping on about tone by now. The series of still life drawings were started to try to gain some insight into this problem. After a few of those, I came to the conclusion that compressing the tonal range whilst preserving the ratios between the tones was an approach that worked quite well. The blue and red cast paintings showed me that it was possible to compress the tonal range in a painting dramatically, yet still create form and light. Today I worked on a few little exercises which finally proved to me, beyond all doubt, the validity of this approach. First, some background on the theory behind these exercises:

This collection of painted wooden cubes, styrofoam spheres and MDF dog tags is what I call my Munsell neutral value set. They've been created for one reason - to help me get a better appreciation of tone. I'll be using them in a series of exercises over the coming months, all designed to investigate how light behaves when it hits a form, and how best to translate that into a painting. I'll move onto colour later, I'm one of those boring methodical people that likes to follow a logically ordered first. If I can crack this, and Mr. Reilly is right about his 80%, then colour should be substantially easier to handle. I won't go into any detail here about Munsell, since it's been done very well elsewhere, but if it's new to you, the Wikipedia Munsell page looks pretty comprehensive. Frank Reilly developed the Munsell system into a practical tool for painting. I first came across Munsell

I got round that by finding the number of steps from the top plane down to the shadow plane of the cube (it was 5). This simple little white cube is out of my available range. I could translate that to the narrower range I can hit with paint. I think it works as a black cube on a grey cloth. To do this. It doesn't make for a more convincing picture. There must be something off about the relationships I think. What to do? I can hold all my tags up at the angle of the light plane. If I hold up my lightest tag. Once I knew the total range of the steps I could see. That's what I mean by going out of my range. it's always going to appear darker than the light plane of the white cube unless I hold it at the same angle to the light as that plane of the cube.the White Cube I was expecting this one to be hard. but this time held them at the same angle to the light as my panel. but angled towards the light it's still showing lighter than the cast shadow. I got 5 steps. so I need to work out how much I compress the steps of the value range by to get a convincing picture of this cube. at least. but I've tried that before and it just makes for a darker picture. from painting the black cube. and so far I've been doing that by eye. I'm comparing the light plane with the cast shadow. particularly using my method of holding up the value tags at the same angle to the light as my panel. First. that my black facing the light appears as a value 4. the black one. In principle. and I use another chip. I'm holding up my darkest tag. I already know. to see how many steps of the scale I need to go down to get to the tone of the top plane. The grey tag there is a value 7. at least the one I used today. Then I went back to my tags. I angled my tags towards the light. But I've often been less than convinced by the results. and found the number of steps between the shadow plane of the cube and the cast shadow. . at the same angle to the light. Here. Somehow this cube doesn't work as well for me as the first one. The tags were invaluable here. But overall. was to work out the difference in steps of the Munsell scale between each tone block. but that will throw out my darks. the white one. I could drop all the other values in the picture to compensate for my white appearing as a light grey. so I'm seeing three steps down from the light to the half tone. I know that I need to compress the tones in order to get this painting to work as a white cube. Now my white tag matches the value of the light plane of the cube. not in my experience. for which I'll be using pure white. This really comes to the heart of what I wanted to figure out with these exercises. But the cast shadow I know is a value 2. I needed to find how many steps the top plane (my half tone) was down from the light plane. I know that I want to preserve the ratios between the tones. The solution.Part three .

I've translated my value 13 white to a Munsell 10 (actually more like a 9 in reality. It will take a few repeats of this exercise to discover whether that's simply because . Most likely there are simpler ways to arrive at the same conclusion. and work out where each value will fall in that range. to see once and for all if my idea of compressing the value range but keeping the ratios the same would work with a subject outside of my available range. whilst compressing the value range. I've already done it. To my eyes. up to 10 for the light plane of the cube. I can't get a value 13 in paint. The top plane falls at around 8. I hope it was worth it. and I've ended the range at the cast shadow. The top plane is 3 steps down from the light plane.Hopefully this gives some idea of what I've done. I'm starting with the cast shadow at 2. But I really wanted to tie this down today. the painting of the white cube does look like a white cube on a grey cloth. but now I can choose the range I'm going to work with. For now. I normally glaze over when I see value charts like this. in the same painting. that gives me fourteen steps. which is already over long. I'm happy that I've proved to myself that compressing the value range is a valid approach. or a 0. To wrap up. works the best of the three. the only one here for which I can exactly match the values I see in paint. the white cube looks like a white cube despite the fact that the steps between the values in my painting are smaller than they were on the actual cube. The next stage of this exercise is a painting of all three of these cubes together. That brings up the range problem at both ends of the scale. but I'm too tired to include it in this post. I think it works because the relationships between the values have been preserved. Hopefully I'll get it up on the site tomorrow. which I've kept accurate at 2. Did it work? Well. here's the three cubes together. All together. and I'm quite sure that many generations of painters have been doing this by eye and getting along fine. But still. The cast shadow is 5 steps down from the shadow plane. If you've managed to get this far through this post. so I'd say yes. the grey cube. the shadow plane at 5. 13 to 0. but I can't see another way to show this. white paint). The shadow plane is 5 steps down from the top plane. now you know how I worked out a way to keep the ratios between the tones the same. it did.

The Munsell value 1. I need to post a correction here. Munsell Cubes . Amanda emailed me wanting to know why I had ten of everything in my Munsell set. I already knew at this point the steps needed between the values of each plane of the three cubes. Black isn't 1. True black (no light) is a Munsell 0. and three steps from the half tone to the shadow plane. I've never been good with numbers. . That will extend the range further.5 Munsell steps between the top plane of the black cube and the shadow plane. which I'd painted black. I've compressed the dark end of the scale. and should translate directly into better and more convincing paintings eventually. Apart from dropping the tones on the light and half tone planes of the grey cube.5. it should be a simple matter of adding black to the values from the painting of the white cube. I do think I've got a lot more practice to do with this. is actually one step above black.5.5. it's only 1. exacerbated by the fact that ivory black paint is higher than a value 1 in reality. Graydon emailed me saying that black is 0. On the black one. Of course that throws all my maths here out. the relationships between the planes of those two cubes are the same: one step down from the light plane to the half tone (the top plane). I've got something like 2.A Tone Exercise Having come up with a way of working out the relationships between the tones of the white cube. there's three steps between the top plane and the shadow plane. At least they were educated guesses though. On the other cubes. or because I didn't compress them quite right on the black and the white cube. So I went back to the Munsell student book and read the chapter on the neutral scale again. but at least I've proved to myself that the basic principle is sound. I've been working under a misconception with my black. but 11 separate tones. and dramatically increase the number of tones to control. The relationship between the shadow plane and the top plane of the black cube is compressed though. So in fact.5. it's 0. but to be honest I was too excited and steamed straight in with what you might call guesses for the tonal relationships. Loomis would rap my knuckles for departing from the form principle there. the most obvious next step was to put all three cubes together in one painting. That can't be right.not achievable in paint) there are ten steps. when she only had nine. The values of the white and grey cubes hold pretty true to Loomis' form principle I think.I didn't need to compress the value relationships. So in the Munsell scale from black (0) to white (10 . The student Munsell book has no value chip for 1 since they say it's not achievable in matt finish chips. I planned to use the same system as I did for the white cube.

Despite that. It all seems to work pretty well until you get to the highlights on the saucer. .. To my eye. A lot of my sketches from last year are like that. allowing for that. Perhaps I was feeling what I'd missed in the numbers. I lightened the light and half tone planes on the black cube. I'm not alone. I think these cubes came out ok. hue being the third) I can perhaps stick some bits of fruit in and see what happens. so couldn't add the little white highlight on the top edge of that plane. Despite the departure from strict adherence to the form principle. this is one of hers. I think the values on the cube painting have come out pretty well. I can't help wondering what this painting would look like with the tones worked out again. whether it helps to create a more convincing impression of the light. After doing a few colour ones and getting at least some grasp of chroma (the second of Munsell's three elements of colour. That's pretty funny. I take it to mean that most of the values in the painting are pretty convincing. Perhaps because I'd used my lightest light on the light plane. if I can. Someone emailed me once to say they liked the picture. which the other two cubes have. mentioning that when they originally saw the painting in a small thumbnail view. What's interesting though is that on the final painting. My painter friend Marsha is painting Munsell cubes too. they thought it was a photo on which the highlights had been painted. This exercise has fired me up. it seemed to need it. blue cube because she just couldn't wait. That's the kind of thing I want to resolve. Each cube seems to me to be reading right against it's neighbours in terms of values. Marsha's done the three cubes exercise though. with big problems in the tonal balance. I think. That's another small thing I'd like to work out in paint before going too much further. That might seem a bit obsessive. The tones look completely convincing to me. She started on a blue cube because she just couldn't wait.. I'm pretty encouraged by the first go at this. and am immediately itching to try some colour cubes. The point about the missing highlight on the white cube is pretty well shown by this painting I think. although I'm less convinced by the white cube.cubes of different value and chroma in the hue of 5YR in Munsell (orange. and that's what these exercises are all about. and are pretty close to the value relationships I got for my cubes. the yardstick for whether or not this way of compressing the tonal range helps is whether it will make for a better painting. The relationships are still compressed on that cube when compared to the other two though. so there'll probably be another couple of versions of this set up. to us mortals). this little blue cube has a palpable reality and solidity to it. and the 5YR cubes . and I'm immediately thinking about other exercises I can do with the cubes and spheres. I know just how she feels. but these exercises have to be related back to the real world of painting pictures at some point. but the highlights aren't light enough in relation to the other elements to work. This here is one nicely painted cube. To me. on the black cube.

We can't get a true white either. Having a good command of that. and putting it in the service of the creation of something with a bit more feeling than a painting of grey cubes. we can't get black. My white tag looks lower than that. Adding pure ivory black at the end would give me another tag at 0. but it's nice to have my little Munsell tags bear it out. placing the lightest light and darkest dark first. perhaps the most notable exponent of the use of Munsell in painting.5. What the point-something is I'm not entirely sure.using the Munsell tags. Which ever way you look at it. But like Magnus Magnusson. this is a way to practice and to develop this faculty of judging tones. Back to the palette. is a practical way of compressing the tones. Now we've got the palette straight. but I'm not going to disagree. That makes eleven tones. locating values and then compressing the range is effective. I have Graydon to thank for starting me on these exercises. and reading from left to right on the palette above. 2. I've also got a strong feeling it's possible to do this by eye.5. Of course that throws out all the sums I've been doing so far to work out how to compress the tonal range but keep the ratios between the tones the same. we have 9.translating light into paint . Ivory black oil paint. 5. 8. 6. believes that titanium white can get up to a 9. Here's my Munsell neutral palette as it stands now. lets get onto the pictures. That thought struck me some time ago. for now. I can feel two more white cube paintings coming on.5. and raised many more. The Munsell scale goes from 0 (black) to 10 (white).?. but without the safety net of the Munsell tags.is too difficult to grasp. Look him up on Google if you want to see what he can do with brushes and paint. I thought true black was value 1 in Munsell. I've now answered one or two questions I've had for a while about tone. 9. with ten steps in between. has evolved an approach to colour based on it. 7. I'm pretty sure that the approach of finding the full range of Munsell steps in the subject. and is a modern day Apelles as far as I'm concerned. 3. or both. maybe through experience. is the eventual goal. on the white cube. There have been moments over the last few days at the easel when I've felt that this subject . I didn't even have a wide enough range to hit all the values of a white cube on a grey cloth. and how better to translate it to a picture.5. . so it's nine-pointsomething. The second approach he mentions. He's quite possibly spent more time with Munsell than any other living painter. 4. it's more like 0. since you'll be working from both ends to the middle. it's 0. sheer talent. So some kind of transformation has to be done to paint a representational picture of nature. In paint. For me though. I'm also hoping that a close study of tone will help me to understand better how light works in nature. Graydon Parrish. there's no doubt that you can't hit the entire range of tones in nature within the range of paint. The first and most important point I need to make today is that I've realised that I'd got my Munsell scale wrong in the last couple of posts. is actually 0.75. 1. More Munsell Tone Studies The cubes keep coming. I've started so I'll finish. It isn't. More like what I've done here with the aid of the Munsell value tags. which I thought was 1.

and is consistent with what Harold says about it being a way to fill the painting with light.But now I come to one of the questions that this practice has raised. it's entirely up to the painter what feeling of light he or she wants to convey. but I must believe the evidence of my eyes. After the second three cubes exercise came two small paintings of the white cube. and a good command of tonal balance should mean the ability to do that as and when the painting requires it. My Munsell tags should be letting me get these steps much more accurate than I could get them simply by looking. on my white. there's nothing to paint at all. there are 7 steps between the light plane and the shadow plane. Although the form seems less defined to me in this version. whilst keeping the steps in tone perceptually accurate. This method means running out of room at the top end of the scale. The three cubes exercise will also be done again. That will make the compression of the two ends of the scale much more obvious and the effect that much more dramatic. the darks or the lights. This was a very interesting exercise. Every time I get the same result. Without it. I've hit black (0. In the first. there appears to be a stronger overall feeling of light. According to Harold. this is how Rembrandt would paint a white cube. matching the steps in tone as accurately as you can. I plan to get myself down to the National Gallery and see what I can learn there. On the value 5 cube. I think he's right. so I started at a value 2 for the cast shadow. The effect is one of sharply focused. so it appears darker in the painting than it appeared to my eye. as if the cube is bathed in diffused light. The compression is more obvious here. Back to the excercises. it showed me that tone relationships can be manipulated for effect. But the light plane of the cube fairly shines out. What this really comes down to is a method that can be used to investigate how light behaves when it hits a form. Although the tags. As long as the form isn't completely lost. there are 6 steps. I've checked time and again over the last few days. The second approach is the opposite. In both cases. This is Turner's cube.5) for my cast shadow. I think. until you run out of available range. Here are the results. And that. My Munsell chips tell me that the ratios of light to dark are not the same across my three cubes. value steps and maths may seem unduly technical to some people. where he described two approaches to handling tone. the range is compressed at one end. Except perhaps that he would do a better job of it. On the white cube. you work down from the lights. to get answers to questions of tone through purely empirical means. there are 5. using these two approaches. . together with the background. my value 5 and my black cube. is the greatest benefit of this method of practice. You might recall me quoting Harold Speed in the last post. keeping the steps in tone perceptually accurate. working up from the darks. The only way for me to be sure about this is to do some exercises designed to investigate it further. cubes. Does this mean that we perceive more tonal contrast in lighter objects? Does it mean that Loomis is wrong? I find that hard to believe. On the black cube. with the half tone and shadow planes of the cube. The second cube is painted up from the darks. coming out much lighter. The first painting at the top is working down from the lights. what painter wouldn't benefit from a greater understanding of light? Light is what we paint. directional light. The cubes and the Munsell tags can be used to pin these things down.

Six steps between the light and the dark. Spheres are hard. so there shouldn't be much more to do than lay them down in the right places. Harold Speed taught me that quality of line is as important as tone in showing form. I know now how easily my eyes can be fooled when it comes to judging tonal relationships. I measured it and got eight steps. Cubes are easy. At one point. then blend a little between them. Spheres are hard. The highlight is extra to those. I was getting a bit tired of painting cubes. But tonally speaking. It was during the planning of this painting that I first noticed the wider range of tones on the white cube. I think the cube sketch is more effective than the sphere. Having just painted the cube. I knew exactly what values to use for the sphere. no need to compress or sacrifice anything. Encouraged by . so the process is far from infallible in my hands. both paintings looked very close to what I saw. even compression.The next stage was to introduce a sphere. Six in direct sunlight. 5 for the black one. my cubes and my Munsell tags disagreed. half-tone and light planes. To be quite honest. Cubes are easy. to get some kind of visual truth. trying to be lead as much as possible by what my eyes told me. I felt the need to just paint something. shining directly into the window. too. But the practice with the value 5 cube helped me paint this value 5 sphere. I'll have to test this a lot more too. But thereafter I consistently got 7 steps. After all that working out of tones. so I'll have to paint some more spheres. Another aspect of this practice is to learn how to model form more convincingly. From reading Loomis. Another question was raised that day when the sun came out a few times. Rather than thinking about the surface of the sphere as a whole (and panicking) I tried to split it into the shadow. no matter how many times I measured it. With my value 5 cube. I have the impression that tonal contrast is stronger in direct sunlight than it is in diffuse. and I think are getting closer to an accurate. I've tried to work the line here. overcast light. The reality was a protracted period of sweating and swearing whilst I tried to get it look right. But my eyes have told me plenty of things that my tags have disproved. 6 steps for the grey cube. The values for this painting were worked out more carefully again. This little sketch was done with the idea that I wanted to get as close to what I saw as I could. I can hit all the tones perfectly well. particularly since my eyes tell me that Loomis is right. Some time ago. The amusing thing about this sketch is that it took me over six hours to plan out the values of the tones and about an hour to paint it. I can paint the tonal balance exactly as I see it. Again. I've included the Munsell values on the right.

just paint straight from the tube. Coffee Pot and Lemon . This coffee pot has already featured a few times in the series of tonal still life drawings. I have to do some drastic compression to paint it. and working on canvas panels. I'm a quarter of the way through. Although I have a nagging feeling that I should have spent more time trying to get the relationships between the tones exactly right.With the first batch of ten studies of the objects in form light. but it's fun and it makes them stand out. and must work correctly with the relationships between the light planes. The backgrounds and shadow areas are laid in as thinly and evenly as possible. It's a good subject for these studies because it presents me with the full range from white across most of it's surface to black on the handle and lid. I'm not using any medium now. These two can define the difference in local value between the object and the surface it's sitting on. It's probably not a good thing.Tone Studies Part Six Having had quite enough of cubes and spheres after the last ten studies I dragged out my old coffee pot and a lemon for a few more. Perhaps the strongest lesson I've taken from it is the importance of the relationship between the shadow plane of an object and it's cast shadow. . It almost feels like sculpting the plane out of paint. and that I should have spent more time observing the spheres more carefully. In some of these studies the paint has been piled onto the light planes pretty thickly. I do think I've gained a lot from this exercise. Anything goes in the lights. I've started to apply paint differently as this series has progressed.

there was only going to be this one. It couldn't be simpler. Come two in the afternoon I have to stop on sunny days. I think part of the reason I've stopped using mediums is that the surfaces of these panels give such nice handling. but lost something in the finishing stages. It started ok. although people will argue over it. I was less than happy with this one. It doesn't seem to make a blind bit of difference which. It's on a fine linen canvas panel made from 12m MDF. It's more important to stay as far back from the easel as you can and still be able to touch it with a brush as far as I'm concerned. Here's the set up in the (ahem) studio. Although lately I've been wondering about trying paint the effect of direct sunlight. It's often that way in painting land I find. which probably means it was taken early in the morning on a fine day. but the surface is beautiful to work on. they've become unnecessary. This one is a bit on the large side for me at 12 X 16 inches. But never say never. There's a window which goes down to within two feet of the floor and desperately needs a clean directly to the left. this one has been given an oil ground. which went on forever. I think Michael Harding's foundation white oil primer for this one. Which is probably why I'm less than happy with it. the linen is attached with rabbit skin glue. After sealing the panel with PVA. . but I'm often sitting too. As with most of the panels I'm using at the moment. but it took me six goes to get what I wanted. I have a feeling that there's something wrong with the tonal relationships somewhere. The light looks quite blue in this shot. Originally. since I get direct sunlight through the window. It looks like I stood up to paint this one.This was the first study of a series of six. It takes forever to dry.

only quicker and less accurate. sanding after each coat.Elementary Tone Exercise This painting is part of a two part tonal exercise in painting the same subject twice. this book is a real gem. (I plan to review it when I have the time). something I intend to do for future monochromes.Harold Speed . a word about the support. The good Mr. but with quick. I've used a 6mm thick MDF panel which has had two coats of Robersons Acrylic Gesso primer. Before starting to paint. This exercise is about tonal relationships. First stage is to lay out the drawing roughly. and a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna alkyd paint and turps rubbed on with a rag to give a light grey ground. except to say that it's the best book I've found so far about oil painting. . were he recommends using raw umber and white. This is a time honoured medium. with a wide tonal range. Don't believe the reviewer who trashed the book. I won't go too much into the book itself here. it does exactly what it says on the tin. not accurate drawing. I used Robersons pure gum turpentine and cold pressed linseed oil. Unnecessary if you have a superb eye. What I want to cover here is the method I used to build up the paintings. like with the Bargue drawing technique. cheap modern materials. For the serious student of the philosophy and practice of oil painting. canvas or whatever else you want to use would do just as well for this exercise. except of course that I've used cadmium red and white. even though I've gone as far as cooking my own maroger and making my own sun bleached linseed oil. Strange that. The paint is thinned down to a consistency which allows it to flow well. I've never tried painting with this basic medium. with charcoal. The brush strokes from the gesso get accentuated by the rubbed in grey tone. something like a Rubens panel. but I don't. both the white (I've used flake white) and the raw umber (or cadmium red in this case) are thinned down with a 50/50 mix of turps and linseed oil. and can be had from Amazon for a paltry Ł6. which I know a lot of painters use. I've followed his instructions to the letter here. First. Of course. once in blue. Speed presents a detailed account of what he calls an elementary tone exercise in his chapter on the practical aspects of learning to paint with oils. I used a rough and ready sight-size approach to drawing out. and once in red with a much narrower range. Using a toned ground makes it much easier to judge the tones as they go onto the painting. giving a nice lively ground to paint on. but still covers solidly and opaquely. Back to the painting. The post linked there deals with that part of the exercise in more depth. which I got from a book by Harold Speed called "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials". he/she plainly hasn't the first idea. Mine was about the consistency of butter left out on a warm day.

and will result in errors. That gives you your tonal range. and every other tone will be judged in relation to these. since this will work against the three dimensional effect when you paint the main forms. A loose edge which cuts slightly into the form is best. it's time to fill in the background. Step two . not your lightest tone. Well.mark the darkest and lightest points First thing to do is pick the darkest point on your subject. with particular attention to where they are sharp and where they soften and disappear. I think he's got a good point there. Harold says that you should learn to put down flat. Make sure the paint doesn't go on so thick that you get ridges up against the edges of your subject.fill in the background Once the two extremes of tone are stated. this makes perfect sense to me. as long as it's monochrome. Well I guess this will only be relevant if you're painting a cast.fill in the base and main shadows . the edges should be stated as carefully and accurately as possible. In the case of this cast. and like Harold uses for his exercise. This is because relating tones to the highlights will make them appear too dark in comparison to the white. I've rushed mine a bit here. like I am here. Harold (we're on first name terms now). it was pure the white on the highlights. even paint before you start messing around with flashy textural effects. Step three . but you get the idea. since it's exactly the approach I've been using on my series of 100 still life drawings. I can see no good reason why you can't use something else though. He advises paying particular attention to the edges here. This should be done as evenly as possible. Then find the lightest light. and match that. and put a corresponding dark note on your painting. To be honest. The edges of shadows soften considerably the further away they get from the form that casts them.Step one . makes a point of recommending that you relate tones to your darkest. Although the tone blocks are put in with flat tone.

before any internal modelling is attempted. right? Step seven .final modelling and finishing The last stage. as we all know now. in which case you just get paint everywhere. the more you diddle about with your paint. bring real sparkle to the painting at this point. you will be able to make more expressive sweeps. that will reduce you to small. That has to be a good thing. get a bright colour. and harder where there is a sharp edge. This seems to me to be such a universally useful . Secondly. like a pen.Step six . I've never concentrated on them to this extent. The only really sharp edge is down the left of the cast against the background. Then get some fresh from the tube. Painting. You can make confident. and if you're really good. Harold makes the point that the edges should be dealt with first. Holding the brush as far down the handle as you can allows for grand. and diddle about with it ceaselessly for half an hour on a bit of canvas. which I got too involved with to remember to take any progress shots of. this should be very valuable. Very illuminating. But the bottom of the leg. Harold also goes to some length to advise on how the brush should be held. Likewise the right edge of the neck where a 90 degree change in plane direction creates a sharp edge. Unless you have wobbly old arms like me. definite marks. (indicating rounded transitions between planes). Try it. and just spent lots of time fiddling obsessively. But that stage went a lot quicker for having laid down a solid foundation with this organised approach to building up the painting. fiddly movements. of course. The effect is very different than fiddling and diddling with little tiny movements. there's nothing in the way of the free movement of your brush. and so does the broken plane of the left arm. is that it forces you to work from the general to the specific. The reason for this is that when you only have the large tonal blocks established. But when I get better at handling a brush. Every now and again on this painting. just like a Bargue drawing. has a sharp edge. the more it breaks down and loses the strength of it's colour. But he's right. I managed to put in a sweep which worked. Although I've been looking at edges more in my still life drawings. is putting in the finer modelling and highlights. is not just about copying what you see. work the living daylights out of it. I think. I'm a bit surprised that this painting came of the end of my brush.work the edges As in the previous stages. making them softer where there are smooth transitions. I must be honest. on the left. Most of the edges here are smooth. Unfortunately I'm not. right next to it. Not near the tip. Now I think that they are at least as important as tone in creating a convincing three dimensional illusion. and have to wipe it off again. the task now is to concentrate on the edges where the tonal blocks meet. and put it down with one stroke. and has two great advantages: Firstly. at least almost all the internal ones are. or at least came close. confident sweeps. once you learn to control your brush like this. I've never quite realised before how important they are in describing form. Because of that. One of the strengths of this approach.

I'm quite excited. but you have to think about it to make it happen.approach that I'm beginning to think that it's a basic tenet of producing good representational work. Now I don't want to criticise other people's working methods. I won't deny it. you can do    . especially when it comes to representational drawing and painting. and that you don't have mastery of it. it has to be practiced and practiced until it becomes second nature. Having got so much from this painting and this approach. These are the two points I'll be looking to internalise over the next series of paintings. firstly. But some time ago. My experience of returning to drawing and painting after a ten year gap has taught me that. These are the four phases of learning which this model postulates:  Unconscious incompetence You're unaware that there is a skill to be learned. at least in the early stages. and that you currently don't have mastery of it. and I'm all about practice. but it must work within the entire picture. You sometimes see people who work gradually down a picture. and wake up the next day able to paint like Rembrandt? It isn't going to happen. or it's just fiddling for fiddling's sake. I've sampled one or two books which promise to have found a new approach to either the learning or the practice of drawing and painting. Then. a way of building up a painting which allows me to concentrate on the main tone masses without getting lost in detail too soon. my bullshit detector goes off the scale. Conscious incompetence You're aware that there is a skill to be learned. Wouldn't it be nice of you could go to sleep with a tape playing in the background. Realising how something works is just the first initial stage. my advanced motorcycle riding instructor introduced me a concept of learning which splits the learning process into four phases. I think the overall strength of the work I've seen done like this suffers. and. and secondly. completely finishing each part before they move onto the next. These days. I have to say. These books are popular because everyone would like to be able to short cut their way to competence. you've become competent at the skill. but it seems to me that it's very easy to lose the 'big picture' working like this. It needs to be internalised to the point of unconscious competence. I'm now planning a series of monochrome still life paintings. until it happens without thinking. Unconscious competence You've practiced so much that your competence has become unconscious. Conscious competence Through practice. The Four Phases of Learning Ordinarily. You know just how bad you are and have some idea of how far you've got to go. I'm skeptical of self development books and the like. the full importance of edges. like Neo learning Kung Fu in The Matrix by having it digitally implanted into his brain. There's nothing wrong with detail. It's the only way to learn anything. if I'm honest. I'm skeptical of any approach which promises to be a "magic bullet" for learning any skill. Partly because it stresses the importance of practice. any time anyone tries to tell me different. which I do believe has some relevance. I've been seduced for a time myself. no exceptions. What I've taken from this exercise is. Since I returned to painting. There are no short cuts. the point of which will be to practice and internalise what I've learned here.

different compositions. to try out different lighting. I think that's partly why I've been yo-yoing between thinking I was doing ok. I'm concentrating more now on matching the ratios between the tones. and thinking that I was failing utterly. Right from the off. That gives me the freedom to experiment more. an escape into a world where everything made sense. but they've been very hit and miss. through my tonal still life drawings. I believe that the more recent still life drawings do a more convincing job of expressing light than any of my paintings so far. never mind the right colour or tone. or because I had some particular goal that I was working towards. Learning the Lessons So I've reached a decision. and only then. They're a lot more simple to produce than the paintings. particularly the more recent ones. I was thinking today whilst I was doing a small drawing of a couple of garlic bulbs that I'm rediscovering the sheer joy of what it is to create a picture. The frustration has melted away. and different subjects. I started painting. And I should have started only with line. I drew because I loved to draw. yes. and take less than half the time per picture. and they're doing it entirely without the use of colour. and I've really started enjoying my work. and how when I drew back then. but I think that if I do. that matching the tones I see in nature is not possible. I didn't draw because I felt I had to. Drawing was an escape for me back then. In all of them. and it's all about the light. Despite my initial obsession with matching colours as a route to catching light. It's now obvious to me that I shouldn't have touched a brush before I'd worked on my drawing skills for a while. This series has shown me that what I should have done is started with drawing. When I was reasonably competent at getting things the right shape. At some point. I'm now realising that unless the balance of the tones in the picture is right. I don't want to do it. where I could relax and just live in the moment. which I've yet to reach. which is what I mean by the tonal balance. I will hopefully attain a reasonable mastery of tone. Some of them I've enjoyed. It reminds me of when I was a kid. I can't ignore that. With these simple. I've been rediscovering that feeling. It'll also be a much less frustrating experience.Take my paintings. The still life drawings aren't like that. unassuming little still life drawings. engrossed in what I was doing. the light will not be as convincing as it could be. as far as I'm concerned. and before I'd learned to see a bit better. But there's something else. they feel completely different when I'm working on them. I should think about applying what I've learned in a new medium which will require the assimilation of more new skills: paint. I'm going to give up painting for a while. . since my materials necessarily limit the tonal range available to me. I'll get something right one day. More than that. I think it's fair to say that all the painting I've done so far has been accompanied by frustration. and think I've cracked it. I should have moved on to tone. I'll progress more quickly and in a more natural way than if I keep steaming ahead as I've been doing. I went into another world for a time. I'm pretty pleased with almost every one of them. only to get it completely wrong the next. I've found my level with these drawings. I've come round to thinking. and some I've been quite pleased with. I've spent a lot of time on painting techniques when I couldn't even get an object the right shape. My new series of still life drawings have helped me to see my paintings with new eyes. Then. What's really brought this home to me is my current series of 100 still life drawings. I can now see errors in the tonal balance which are working against the feeling of light.

I think I've finally found a level at which I can work comfortably.That's what I mean by finding my level. through a gradual process of stepping backwards. It requires no effort on my part to make a start on one. as a rule. http://www.co.learning-to-see. I just enjoy doing them. because I love doing them. and not clouding up my mind with negative thoughts about how good the work is. and also. I think that the drawings are better for that. For the first time since I started working again. that I'm learning more because I'm enjoying myself. do best at things they enjoy. I'm doing these drawings for the simple enjoyment of doing them. crucially. and without beating myself up about how bad they are. I've said before that I think that human beings.uk/ . So. So I think that these drawings will help me to get from conscious incompetence to conscious competence without having to do myself all kinds of mental damage along the way. without any histrionics. The journey has just got a lot more fun. I can do these drawings without any emotional roller coasters.